I’m driving through the countryside of Machias, summer fields and trees and mountains flowing past me as if in slow motion, farm houses and trailers, far apart, like staccato images of falseness against an otherwise natural landscape.
I’m lost in a driver’s trance, more aborbing what I see than actually looking at it. Quiet in my thoughts.
My grandparent’s old farm, the first they live on when they moved to Washington, is here somewhere. I found it before recently. It wasn’t much changed. I want to see it again, but it’s not the purpose of sojourne here. I’m looking for an old stone house my realator cousin Brenda told me about. I’ve always wanted to live in a cute little stone cottage in the countryside between field and forest.
I don’t see it and I don’t see my grandparent’s old farm either. No. Instead, I see a kitten beside the road. I must have been driving slowly at that moment to even notice. But there it is, a fluffy blue-eyed white one, waif like, at the top of a deep, round, circular gravel turnout with apparently nothing more than fog and forest beyond it.
The fog is a little odd. It’s hot and dry outside. Yet I barely notice this at the time.
A split second glimpse of kitten on a stretch of road with narry a house or barn in sight and all I can think about is what a nice light snack that poor little thing, obviously abandoned, would make for any passing coyote or cougar.
A cougar once ate one of my grandmother’s little poodles.
I turn in so fast that the gravel kicks up in a cloud of dust and my tires squeal in protest.
I get out the car and sway on my feet, overcome with a moment’s vertigo. The dust is carried away in swift light breezes, but the kitten is no more to be seen. I wander about the turnout confused that I could have seen the kitten in the first place – like maybe it was just an illusion created by light and shadow – and worried that maybe it wasn’t but I’d scared it away.
I step off the gravel toward the fog and the forest on the edge where I thought I’d seen the kitten and am startled at the sudden downslope of the grassy verge. It’s like the bank of a stream, so much so that I stop and do a double-take.
The fog has cleared from the edge a little and I do, indeed, appear to be looking down into clear water at the very house Brenda had told me about. The slope is abrupt enough here that even though the house is maybe 15 feet away, it’s fully beneath the mist, which is ground-level to the turnout.
I see “appear” because even though it gives an impression of being clear water, there’s nothing but warm air swirling around my feet as I step downslope toward the house.
The air is very swirly here, the currents flowing round my body in a way both magical and eery.
The house strikes me as very old but still beautiful in a rustic way. It may even have been built before the advent of electricity, but, unlike another old house Brenda once drove me and my husband Jeb to, this one had intact looking windows, door, walls, and roof. Kind of important that. Wiring and plumbing isn’t too big a deal if only the house is worth the touble and this one looked like it might be. It looked like something out of a fairy-tale.
The steeply sloped slate roof was covered in thick moss and ferns. A huge chimney decked in morning glories climbed one side of the cottage. There were deep porches with thick timber colums, dark with age, upholding the overhangs, a hanging glider in the front, two old rocking chairs in the back, both covered with the forest detritus that had floated in over many autumn’s past.
I tried to peer through the windows but curtain blocked some and the interior was too dark to see much through the others. Frustrated, I tried the front door. It was locked of course. So was the screened back.
Fishing my cell phone out of my purse, I punched in Brenda’s number and told her, “I found that stone house you told me about. Can you come and meet me here with Jeb?” Look for my car, because the house isn’t visible from the road. It’s downslope from the gravel turnout in front of it.” I described the spot as well as I could.
She only knew the road it was on. She hadn’t seen the house herself before. I’d beat her to it. But she was still the one with the key.
She promised to collect up Jeb and come out right away.
I brush the leaves off the glider and sit there swinging a while, old chains creaking, remember the kitten and stop. I was so certain I’d seen it there!
“Here kitty, kitty, kitty…” I call out softly, clear my throat, and try it in a more normal tone of voice. “Here kitty, kitty, kitten cat….”
I listen, hear nothing but birdsong, wind soughing through the grass and trees, and… is that rushing water…?
I rise and walk away from the porch to the right of the house where there’s a thick patch of Japanese rag weed and tall bright green ferns blocking my view into the forest, but the rushing water sound seems to be coming from that direction.
I pace it slowly, looking for an opening, and finally find it. Not just an opening, a path paved in limestone piercing the weedy green thicket. Now the rushing water is roaring full throttle yet still I think I hear a sound beneath it, the abruptly loud “Mew!” of a tiny kitten down there somewhere.
I knew it would take Jeb and Brenda at least a half hour, maybe more, to get out here, so I figured it would do no harm if I explored a little while waiting. Maybe I could find that kitten.
I followed the curve of the path through the greenery and a good fresh coolness came sweept over me as the vista of a deep river gorge opened up. The path skirted its high leftward edge as if pushed there by thickly crowded tall pines pine forest beside it.
Beyond the surface of the clear bright waters far below, great stone walls climbed skyward to lose themselves in the fog. Moss and delicate ferns is only decor but for the ocasional old tree trunk that had fallen headfirst from above straight into the glassy waters of the river. Those and the waterfalls.
The waterfalls were everywhere, I noticed, as I stood there, astonished, taking it all in. Streamers of white water roaring straight down, trickles of crystalline pure beauty trickling down from one rock ledge and crevice to the next, huge curtains of water sluicing down over broad faces of rock. I was slowest to notice that last. The flow there was so clear and smooth it was like the water flowing down the sides of an overflowing glass, almost invisible at first glance.
Standing there transfixed, I hear the sound underneath of tires on gravel without really paying it mind. No. I’m shaken from my reverie only from the familiar voices calling out my name.
I turn reluctantly and go back up the path toward the house. Brenda, Jeb, and my daughter Amy are there looking for me. Seeing them and they me, I just stop where I am and, grinning at them, wave them excitedly toward me. “You’ve got to see this!” I shout at them.
They come running to see and I lead them down the path, pleased to hear their gasps of awe of the vista opens up before them.
“What about the house?” Brenda asks a very long moment after.
“We can look at it later,” I say. “Let’s see where this path goes first?” I plead.
Brenda and Jeb exchange glances, looking reluctant, but Amy smiles brightly and says “Oh yes! Let’s!”
Jeb’s a pushover where Amy is concerened. That’s all it takes to get past his initial resistance. This, despite the dangerous look of the path going right to the edge of the steep gorge, a bit crumbly in some places and way too polished looking in others.
Brenda just sighs in resignation and comes along. She too might be more than a little tempted by the beautiful adventure of it all.
Soon, they’re all walking ahead of me while I trail reverently behind, aware of being in a very sacred place. Their voices, chatting and laughing, reach me in echoes and bits, words indistinct. I can’t get enough of those myriad waterfalls! So beautiful!
And then I notice a couple of things:
The water is flowing in down the entire surface of the gorge wall I can see, parted only by the moss, the ferns, and the logs… and those look in danger of being swept along for the ride. Is the gorge being completely inundated? Where is all that water coming from? Surely it’s not from a single river or even two or three. It’s more like if a great chunk of land had sunk beneath a huge lake and so the lake waters were rushing in to fill the gap.
The mist above suddenly strikes me as like looking up at the surface of water from somewhere deep beneath it. The sunlight filtering through it looks water, apearing to ripple and dance over rocks and path, the gorge, the trees, and me.
Feeling under water, I struggle with a burst of panic, before being suddenly distracted by a mewing sound again; a chorus of mews.
I stop and look around again and there they are: not just the white kitten, but a fluffy orange one and a black one as well. They come running to me from the bushes and I scoop them all up, hugging them close.
Their mews are now mixed with purrs but I can tell they’ve been starving. Their eyes are runny, their furry little bodies dusty and emaciated, their meows loud and extremely demanding now.
And that’s the most I can remember now. Hopefully I’ll dream a part two! Jeb chose then to wake me up and it felt like struggling to swim back to the surface of wakefulness. I really didn’t want to leave the kittens or this eerily beautiful place. I wanted to feed the kittens and also to see what was further down the path.